After record-setting season, wait begins for m. hoops

By
Monday, March 10, 2008

When the final horn sounded on the men’s basketball team’s record-setting season on Saturday night, the players gave each other the usual hugs and high-fives.

Then, after celebrating their weekend sweep of Harvard and Dartmouth, the team’s three seniors and captains – Damon Huffman ’08, Mark MacDonald ’08 and Mark McAndrew ’08 – thought about their four years at Brown and cried.

“The whole season has been an emotional kind of roller coaster for so many different reasons,” McAndrew said, adding that there was “even more emotion” because it was the seniors’ first winning season at Brown.

That position McAndrew was referring to was the Bears’ 19-9 overall record, the best in the program’s history. This year’s team set school records for most wins and fewest losses in a season.

The Bears’ only shortcoming was their 11-3 Ivy League record, which wasn’t enough to overcome Cornell and its perfect 14-0 season for the conference title and NCAA Tournament bid.

But the Bears hope that their first winning record in five years and their second-place league finish will be enough for a berth in either the National Invitational Tournament or the new, 16-team College Basketball Invitational. They’ll have to wait until after the NCAA Tournament’s selection show on Sunday to find out about their postseason fate.

With the creation of the CBI, 113 Division I basketball teams will qualify for postseason games this year – and with a Ratings Percentage Index ranking of 103 as of Sunday night, according to RealTimeRPI.com, Brown isn’t a lock to play more games. But Head Coach Craig Robinson said the team is optimistic enough that it will continue practicing this week.

“I think we’re playing some of our best basketball right now,” Robinson said, noting that the Bears have won 10 out of their last 11 games.

The Bears continued to make their case for the postseason by beating Harvard, 78-62, on Friday night. They never trailed in the game, starting the game on a 14-4 run and ending the first half with a 39-31 lead.

Both teams shot well in the half, but Brown was better, hitting 63 percent from the floor compared to Harvard’s 54 percent. They also went 6-for-11 from three-point range in the opening 20 minutes.

The Crimson “played a sagging man-to-man defense, and they kind of over-helped, so we were able to find open guys for shots,” McAndrew said.

In the second half, Brown increased its lead to 12 at the 14:15 mark after a layup by forward Chris Taylor ’11, but Harvard quickly cut the lead to 51-49 with a 10-0 run that included two three-pointers by guard Dan McGeary.

“We had open shots, but we just missed a few early in the half and (Harvard) was able to capitalize on that,” McAndrew said.

But the Bears then went on a 27-13 run to blow open the game. They had their biggest lead of the night, 78-60, after forward Morgan Kelly ’11 hit two free throws with 30 seconds left.

Huffman led all scorers with 19 points, shooting 7-for-10 from the floor and 3-for-4 from three-point range. Forward Peter Sullivan ’11 had 18 points and McAndrew added 13. Forward Scott Friske ’09, starting at center for the third straight game, scored eight points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Friske started in place of MacDonald, who had been recovering from a concussion and played just three minutes, and Matt Mullery ’10, who injured his knee against Princeton last week.

Harvard was led by forward Evan Harris, who scored 16 points. The Crimson shot just 41 percent for the second half and ended the game with a 47 percent field goal percentage, compared to Brown’s 61 percent.

On Saturday, the Bears had a much more difficult start at Dartmouth. Brown trailed for nearly the entire first half and, at the 3:33 mark, the Bears were down by eight.

The Big Green “came out on fire, it being their last game (and) senior night,” McAndrew said. “They were just ready to go and geared up.”

But the Bears were able to come back by halftime, going into the break with a 36-35 lead.

Brown started the second half on a 16-8 run but then, at 10:55 mark, let the Big Green back into the game after a three-pointer from Dartmouth’s Robby Pride brought Dartmouth to within two points, 52-50. But the Bears made another run, taking a 12-point lead with less than four minutes to play after a McAndrew steal led to a Huffman layup.

Dartmouth cut the lead to three again with 21 seconds to play, but McAndrew and Sullivan made free throws in the final seconds to seal a 75-71 win for Brown.

Both teams shot well, with Brown going 61 percent from the floor compared to Dartmouth’s 55 percent. But the Bears took 15 more free throws than the Big Green, sinking 17 of 22 while Dartmouth went 5-for-7 from the charity stripe.

Huffman and Dartmouth’s Alex Barnett led all scorers with 18 points each. Sullivan had 15, McAndrew had 14 and Chris Skrelja ’09 had 12.

MacDonald, who wasn’t even sure earlier this week if would play this weekend, played 15 minutes and scored nine points in his final Ivy game. After sitting out of practice and games for much of the past two months, MacDonald had been worrying whether he would be fit enough to play.

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” he said. “I think the adrenaline just kicked in.”

For now, the Bears will take today off practice, but they will be back on the court tomorrow. Then, on Sunday, after the NCAA Tournament’s field is announced, they’ll be hoping for a phone call from an NIT or CBI official.

“I think we’d all be disappointed and I think it would be hard to accept” if the team didn’t get a postseason invitation, MacDonald said, “but it wouldn’t take away from the season that we had.”